How do you explain Good Friday?
When my oldest daughter was in preschool, she learned about Holy Week. She understood that Jesus died on Good Friday, but she pressed for more details. His death was so unthinkable to her that she wanted to know everything. How did He stay up there on the cross? Where did they put the nails? So I explained about the cross and the nails, where they went, and how they held Him there.
She was quiet for a minute, and then she said, “Was it like when I had a splinter in my hand?”
“Sort of,” I said.
“Did He cry?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, probably.”
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Good Friday Came First
How do we explain the sadness of Good Friday?
It conflicts so painfully with Easter Sunday. The celebration of the resurrection is so joyous. It’s the ultimate triumph of good over evil, of life over death. There is no more wondrous miracle in all of history.
Despite this, Easter is relatively subdued for a major Christian holiday. Christmas seems more beloved, probably because of all the presents. But perhaps the deeper truth is that it’s nicer to think about the birth of a baby surrounded by farm animals than to reflect upon the death of a man who never – literally never – did anything wrong.
It’s a hard truth. But to understand Easter Sunday, we first have to understand Good Friday.
Jesus Could Have Prevented His Passion
Good Friday upends the natural order of things. The Son of Man, the Word Made Flesh, the manifestation of God on earth, was betrayed by His friend, abandoned by His followers, tortured, and killed by human men.
It’s even harder to accept that He allowed it to happen. In the Book of Matthew, Jesus tells His followers not to fight for Him:
“‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?’”Matthew 26:52–53
He’s letting us know He could have escaped.
It must have been downright incomprehensible for His apostles, watching their beloved teacher, whom they had seen walk on water, submitting to His arrest. One can imagine the confusion and fear among them. Was He really going to go through with it? Couldn’t He call it off?
Today, we may find ourselves pondering the same questions. How can we trust in God’s love and protection when He allowed the crucifixion of His only son? Why was that the thing that would save us? Couldn’t our omnipotent God have just willed the gates of heaven to open? God allows bad things to happen to good people, and Jesus was the very best.
It’s very hard to accept that the path to our salvation was death.
The Greatest Act of Love
To ponder these questions thoroughly is to conclude that this was the only way. After all, we know the story ends with a victory. Jesus’s death had to be an act of such self-sacrifice that His love for us would never be in question. It had to be agony, the weight of every single sin, every debt paid. Only the greatest act of love ever to occur could have opened the gates of heaven.
If this doesn’t make us humble and grateful, it’s hard to find something that will.
God allowed His son to be crucified out of love for humankind. God allows trials in our lives, and through them, He works miracles that echo the triumph of the resurrection. When God allows us to carry crosses, we get our own tiny share of the greatest suffering and loneliness ever endured. Through this, we share in the most glorious of miracles.
So, on Easter Sunday, as we decorate with lilies and sing hymns of praise, let us remember this fundamental truth – that 2,000 years ago, God’s best friends turned on Him and left Him for dead, and He saved them anyway.
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A Good Day After All
When my younger daughter was taught the same lesson on Holy Week, she came home with fewer questions. She just wanted to tell us about it.
“Jesus died,” she said, “but it’s okay because He saved us so it was a good die.”
It was a good die.